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EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 2753 - March 05, 2012 - ISSN 1539-5065    4 of 4

eBay Seller Release Podcast Interview Transcript

By Ina Steiner
March 05, 2012

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eBay announced the first Seller Release of 2012 on February 28, 2012, and eBay Vice President of Merchant Development Michael (MJ) Jones and the Senior Manager of Community & Development for eBay Marketplaces Jim (Griff) Griffith joined EcommerceBytes Editor Ina Steiner to talk about the changes and their impact on sellers.

The podcast is available on EcommerceBytes Industry SoundBytes, and a rough transcript of the interview follows.

Ina Steiner: Today we're speaking with two managers from eBay to discuss the first seller release of 2012. Michael Jones and Jim Griffith, known as Griff to eBay sellers. Thanks for joining me, Michael, and Griff, How are you?

Michael Jones: Very well, Ina, thanks.

Jim (Griff) Griffith: Great to be with you.

Ina Steiner: There's a lot of changes in the spring seller release. I wanted to start off with a bit of an overview. And I thought good way to do that would be to ask you, Michael, what do you think is the most positive change out of the seller release in terms of the impact on sellers?

Michael Jones: I think what's import to recognize is that consumer expectations are continually on the rise of how they buy online, and eBay standards are raising with them. Specifically, we want to make sure that our changes are in lock step with the expectations that sellers have when they're shopping online. Those manifest themselves into benefits for the merchants which are better overall service stands, which will attract and retain more customers, so they can sell more - and loyal customers for those people who those people who buy more often - and the best sellers do best on eBay, meaning that we see a lot of growth in our best sellers that have already adopted the practices that we've announced today.

Ina Steiner: I also wanted to give you an opportunity to answer this question: What change do you think sellers will have the most difficulty with?

Michael Jones: I think it depends on the seller type, actually. But I think as they start looking at where they sell, the category they're in, it will depend on each change they'll have to do to be more successful. Once again, I think it's important for them to recognize what going to be important to their buyers. We know, when we look at our most successful sellers, all of these things we're rolling out today help them sell more, so that's what I think they should focus on, and specifically to their category, what will be important.

Ina Steiner: You mentioned seller type. Do you mean just seller category or do you mean also the size of the seller? A lot of times certain policies and features will impact smaller sellers in a different way than larger sellers. Any thoughts on that?

Michael Jones: I think it's fair to say both.

Ina Steiner: OK. I did want to get into one of the most common questions I've seen seeing on our blog. A lot of the questions are around feedback ad the new automatic stars for DSRs for communication. I don't know if Griff or Michael wants to answer each of these questions. Initially you might want to identify yourself until people get a sense of your different voices, that would probably be helpful.

So with the automatic 5 stars for DSRs, would you say that communication…one of the questions I've read on the ECommerceBytes Blog is, doesn't communication between the buyers and the sellers contribute to good customer service? In other words, if it's a DSR about communication, why does it feel like to sellers that they're being penalized if there is communication going on between them and the buyers?

Jim (Griff) Griffith: Communication is a good sign of service when it's needed. What we've discovered over the years is that buyers who shop online have one thing in mind, which is to find what they're looking for, make a decision, purchase it, and get it. The ideal transaction, it turns out, is one where no communication is necessary because the seller's description gives all the information the buyer could possibly want. We started moving in this direction a few years ago when we created seller FAQs, for those particular questions which a seller thought might end up clogging up their description, but when the buyer goes to ask a question, they can get them answered in the FAQ. There's many reasons for this. Good co9mmunication between buyers and sellers is a good part of service. No communication does not necessarily mean bad service, but it can also mean good service because it wasn't necessary.

Ina Steiner: One of the questions I saw someone ask that I thought was interesting was: Is eBay going to educate buyers that contacting the sellers after the transaction could be harmful to the seller. What do you think about that, Griff?

Jim (Griff) Griffith: No, I actually think that's thinking the wrong way. It would be a mistake for us to actually tell a buyer, don't contact a seller if you need it. The point here, the purpose is for the seller to provide as much information about the item as possible so the buyer doesn't have to contact the seller. However, when a buyer contacts a seller, that doesn't mean that that seller is penalized. The buyer is still going to make up their mind how they rate the seller based on the quality of that communication. You know, I sell on the site, and I'm always happy to answer questions. I answer them completely and politely and I always get good marks for communication. You get an automatic five stars for communication if there's no need for communication, but you can still get a five star from the buyer if your communication is polite, professional, and informative.

Ina Steiner: I thought one question was interesting. Somebody said, oftentimes, they want to get the phone number for the buyer because they're using FedEx and UPS. It's a good idea to have the phone number if you use these shipping methods, oftentimes they can get there really quickly. So, they wanted to know would they be disqualified from automatic five star DSRs in communication if they did reach out to the buyer and ask for their phone number, and kind of as a part 2 to that, I think would be, will eBay try to do more to provide sellers with buyers' phone numbers?

Michael Jones: There's two parts to that question. I'll answer the first one: Yes, a buyer who sends a My Message note to the buyer requesting a phone number - that communication would disqualify them from an automatic five star. It's not a requirement for FedEx or UPS to have domestic phone numbers. I know this because I use both services. I'm not quite sure why a seller would need to do that. If they really need to get a phone number, they can always use the request contact detail. That's an option, but of course, the buyer knows that. What's most important here is if you need to ask that question, it's an important part of service, if you do so professionally, and you do so politely, there's still a good chance that you're going to get five stars.

Ina Steiner: And so if a buyer contacts the seller with a thank you note or a question, if the seller wants to send a thank you note to the buyer, basically those will disqualify them from getting the automatic five stars in communication?

Jim (Griff) Griffith: If a buyer sends a note post-transaction it would disqualify them from the five star. The best place by the way for a seller to send a thank you note is in the package. That's where it really matters. I actually in all my packing sheets put a handwritten note, not just to thanks, but I use their name and I reiterate my return policy, you can return it two years from now and I'll take it back, and a thank you for their service. That's the one that resonates. We find that as much as it's important for communication when it's needed, both buyers and seller will tell you the same, is that email communication can be a lot of work and be an unnecessary aspect to an online transaction.

Ina Steiner: It's interesting because sellers have, experienced sellers have figured out exactly what they want to send to buyers, and I know a lot of them really do want to keep the buyer informed about the order status and so on,

Jim (Griff) Griffith: But we do that for them, so you don't have to actually email the buyer. When you upload tracking, there's an order detail that goes out to the buyer from eBay that lets them know what the status of the transaction is and that does not count against you. That does not mean that because those orders go out post-transaction that you're disqualified from receiving five stars, it's only messages in My Messages that count here.

Ina Steiner: That kind of segues into something I wanted to ask you guys about, and that is, people who are selling very low value items, low cost items, and who send out in envelopes, they're small items, they may be under $10 in the sale price. I read someone on the EcommerceBytes Blog who said they have 75% of their items sold on eBay as being below $10 in sale price. They said they ship those in plain envelopes without delivery confirmation. Their kind of response to these new policies is they either have to price themselves out of business or they lose their profit margin. This has to do with communication, but it also has to do with top rated seller status, and keeping that. Because in order to retain top rated seller status you have to upload that tracking information. I was curious as to what your response to those concerns would be.

Jim (Griff) Griffith: My first response would be I'm a little confused by the statement only because if you print out first class postage for an envelope on eBay, delivery confirmation is free. So that you can upload that tracking even if you're shipping in a small envelope as long as you are printing out the postage.

Ina Steiner: Can I ask you something Griff? Because I do know that with the most recent changes in the USPS, they did make some changes about that. Is that a fact that has take n place since the January changes, or is that always true?

Jim (Griff) Griffith: I think it's since January's USPS changes. I ship first class a lot, and I notice that delivery confirmation is automatically uploaded.

Ina Steiner: So I think that, from what I remember about those USPS rate changes, with the free delivery confirmation, it's if you use one of the services like the eBay postage or the Endicia or Stamps, or you know Pitney Bowes, one of those online (postage) printing services, I think that's where that takes place. So if you're just going down to the post office, retail, I don't think you get DC,...

Jim (Griff) Griffith: You're absolutely true, this is for online postage, but again this is responding to industry standards, on online commerce. On eBay we're bringing things to the post office and getting the postage there are building in an inefficiency to their business. If they are doing this regularly and doing this as income, that's actually hurting their bottom line more so than anything that eBay can provide on guidance to becoming a top rated seller. They're spending a lot of time doing something they don't have to do. If they print the postage on eBay, and you can get a label printer that will do the small labels for envelopes, you're going to get delivery confirmation automatically uploaded you're going to be in line along with the standard for online commerce, so that you can compete better. I always panic a little bit when I hear about a seller who is actually relying on 20th century methods in the 21dst century and do what I can do to convince them to try these great great features that will make their lives so much easier and more profitable.

Ina Steiner: And to be clear, when you're taking about uploading tracking information, you're saying, Griff, that if you have delivery confirmation, that is basically the tracking information you need?

Jim (Griff) Griffith: Yeah, we use the term tracking and that has always caused a little bit of confusion with some sellers. Tracking covers delivery confirmation and all of the tracking services provided by the other carriers. There is a distinction, and it used to be greater, between delivery confirmation and tracking. I don't know if you've noticed but over time USPS is become more robust with their delivery confirmation services and now, in most cases, and again this is USPS, I won't speak for them directly, but I noticed as a seller that they're actually following progress. If I use a priority mail envelope, for example, those give me the delivery confirmation I expect, though I will not check the tracking it shows me accepted, now it's in this city, now it's this city so it's acting more like tracking.

Ina Steiner: I think over the last year they have made some improvements in that area.

Jim (Griff) Griffith: Yeah.

Ina Steiner: But before I leave feedback and communication altogether, I want to ask, do any of these seller release 1 changes help feedback extortion? I wanted to ask you, how big of a problem is that on eBay?

Jim (Griff) Griffith: Sure. Nothing in here in particular I think addresses that issue directly. One thing I would say is, when there is potential abuse by a buyer when it comes to an unpaid item, now one of the changes we've made, and again it's an incremental change, moving more toward the objective and away from the subjective, is that if an unpaid item report closes in favor of the seller, any feedback that was left is automatically removed If it's somebody who tries to leave feedback, they'll be blocked.

This is something that is moving toward getting away from the manual process where a seller has to go through the laborious process of having to report it and then waiting to see what happens. Now it will be automatic.

And earlier this year, eBay started this displaying an automatic message on the View Item page to buyers regarding U.S. customers. I think this was a big one because I think a lot of seller felt this was where they were getting extorted. International buyers who said if you don't reimburse me for the fees I had to pay my customs agency, I will leave you a negative. Now, instead of having the seller have the onus of putting the text in the description and then reporting it to eBay, they'll be a message right there on the View Item page for buyers, and that'll take the place of the sellers having to do it.

If there's negative feedback left, regardless of what happened in the transaction that references custom fees, custom delays, country taxes, anything having to to do with the post transaction process then that negative feedback will be removed.

Ina Steiner: How big of a problem is feedback extortion on eBay?

Jim (Griff) Griffith: It's not very big. The problem of course is, it almost doesn't matter that it's very small to many sellers. I acknowledge it his because when someone talks about it, it becomes an issue. In the scope of the millions of transactions that take place on eBay, this is actually an incredibly small percentage of sales that even are considered for an investigation as feedback abuse. But I'll be totally honest, in my 16 years, I have seen it on occasion, and what is great I feel about what we're doing, is there is a team dedicated in Trust and Safety to facilitating and acting on cases of definite feedback abuse or distortion.

And I've seen the results; I've been able to talk about them sometimes on my radio show, and I know some sellers have dome3 to me and said, Hey I responded to this, and it got taken of. So I'm very happy about the direction we're taking with this. We acknowledge that even though it is a very small problem, that it does exist, and it should not be something that sellers have to have on their minds.

We want sellers to focus on selling on making a great business and good profits. That's it. Everything we do is geared towards making our seller partners as successful as possible. Sometimes it's not easy. Sometimes it does take some guidance and education about informing sellers that the changing environment of online commerce or standards, buyers' expectations have grown so quickly, and I'm confident that we're not only keeping up with it but we can be the market leader here.

Ina Steiner: And one final follow-up with that. In terms of what you just said about the Trust and Safety team, is that a new thing or has that team been in place for quite a while?

Jim (Griff) Griffith: There's been a function within Trust and Safety that dealt with buyer abuse. There is now a dedicated team with a team lader for buyer abuse.

Ina Steiner: When you say now, recently or…?

Jim (Griff) Griffith: Within the past six months.

Ina Steiner: OK, I was just curious about that. I know you guys have a limited amount of time. Before we go I certainly want to talk about the best match changes because it didn't seem like there was a lot of detail about what is happening with best match search and that is so critical to sellers. According to these announcements, eBay will be looking at descriptions to evaluate items for ranking and they're going to look at item specifics and product codes. When are these changes to Best Match going to roll out? Can you talk a little more about that?

Jim (Griff) Griffith: We can't, because we don't know that. That's forward looking we don't know when we'll make these incremental changes. Our plan is to encourage sellers to continue using best practices, and when it comes to for example for a description, we'll provide information about what that means and what sellers can do to make sure their descriptions are ideally optimized for best match.

It's again, this is something that's in the works. We thought it would be good to bring it out only because we want sellers who aren't adopting the current checklist of best practices to get on board now while there's time. They're very easy; there's the checklist on the seller update site, and every seller should visit and go through it.

We talk about them a lot on the radio show as well. It's basically making sure you're using item specifics. When there's an opportunity in the catalog, as I've learned personally, it can make a big difference in getting a sale. As we move forward, things like descriptions and even photos we've alluded to photo quality, will make a difference. When will we know how that's going to work directly? We will also provide the information sellers need to adjust. We won't leave them in the dark about this.

Ina Steiner: Speaking of photos, a lot of, lot of, lot of questions I'm seeing on the boards and the blog about watermarks versus text. First of all, if a business name is the URL, if my business name is ecommercebytes.com, and I put Copyright EcommerceBytes.com as a watermark, is that allowed? And secondly, what is the difference between putting text on a photo which is now going to be prohibited, versus putting a watermark?

Michael Jones: A watermark, what we're finding is this, this is the goal behind this Ina. A watermark to identify the photo as copyright is perfectly OK. As long as it's not a full domain name, if it says EcommerceBytes.com, that would be OK as a watermark, which is not an intrusive but usually a bit of text that fits over the image or sits to the side of the image. I know sellers do this so other sellers won't take their image, and that's understandable. However, what we're seeing is more and more sellers trhat re loading up their images with text like free shipping, located in the USA, and stuff that really shouldn't be in a photo, that's actually making it difficult for buyers to make an informed decision. I wanted to take the opportunity to remind your readers and listeners that these are the best practices to not put that text in your picture now. So we can get it happening before it becomes official that you can't do this, this will be better for sellers It def is not a good buyer experience to have that text in your picture.

Ina Steiner: I have to say, one of the things that I went specially looking for was more information about this, and I saw a very helpful photo on the eBay website, where it showed text versus watermarks. But one of the things is that, the watermark example of this is acceptable was in black font. So I wondered, I didn't want people to jump to any kind of assumptions here. Does it have to be white, or does it have to be can it be black text on a photo?

Jim (Griff) Griffith: I don't have an answer. I don't now if we're that spec in what the requirements will be. But when it comes time to do this we'll have them. My advice would be to use the example that's showed on eBay as an example of a watermark to be safe. But it's too early for me to say because I don't know how it's going to work,

Ina Steiner: Another question that I saw someone ask was, the policy says eBay is now giving sellers free photos, image hosting, up to 12 images. I am guessing that eBay is still going to allow sellers to host photos themselves. If they show some of those self-hosted photos in a listing, do those requirements about text and watermarks apply to those photos?

Jim (Griff) Griffith: Yes, they do. I know that some photos are branded by the hosting company, and that's OK, as long as there is not a clear indication of the URL or whole domain name on the photo. It's perfectly all right. And yes, sellers can continue to host their own photos.

Editor's Note: See this EcommerceBytes Blog post for clarification on eBay's photo standards.

Ina Steiner: And in terms of returns, one of the other big areas that sellers are concerned about, and for some reason I see it a lot among the clothing sellers, because I imagine it would be true in other categories too, but clothing sellers are very vocal about the fact that if they have to choose between no return versus a 14-day return, it's a really difficult choice.

They want to be able to let buyers return a piece of clothing. But 14 days? They talk about renting. A lot of people will buy an item of clothing and wear it for a special occasion and then they'll return it.

In fact, I remember seeing a sitcom on TV, the King of Queens, where one of the characters was going to real-life stores, and she had a whole store at her disposal where she was basically buying clothes and returning them after she wore them. I guess I wanted to ask you for your response to those concerns that sellers have.

Jim (Griff) Griffith: Oh, sure, and it is a valid concern, but I definitely don't want to invalidate that. Sellers should think about what they would do as a shopper. I still believe, and we still believe, people are basically good.

We see in the numbers that the vast majority, the biggest percentage of returns are honest. It isn't somebody who tried something on went to a party and came back and sold it, and asked to return it. However, if sellers need to and a clothing seller especially needs to build that into their business model, there's a vey simple thing they can do. They can always add a restocking fee to covers their percentage rate of return, where the return s either devalued, for example a wig seller saw a lot who gets returns occasionally where the wig has been ruined, so my advice to him was to use a restocking fee for returns that would cover those, and that should be based on your past sales.

But I think the idea is, if you expect your buyers are going to be honest, the magic here is that they actually are honest, and if you're upfront about this - this is my return policy and I ask that you return it in the3 same condition, that even if someone wore the item and it didn't have tags on it, perhaps they would return it and you would never know that they wore it. This is just a great unknown out there.

My advice out there is for sellers to test their way into it. If they are currently a top rated seller and they want to retain that, I would start testing now with a 14 day policy before it goes into effect. That way they can gauge whether or not it will have an effect on their business, rather than just assuming that it will.

Ina Steiner: Yeah, it is a real tough situation for sellers. They're really in a difficult position, I think. I've seen some sellers say they are basically going to offer no return policy, but if a buyer contacts them later and asks, that they'll take it on a case by case basis, which, unfortunately, with some of these changes, that does hurt them? Because I think there are some changes where, if you don't offer a return policy,... I'm not sure if it's the top rated seller?

Jim (Griff) Griffith: It's the top rated seller.

Ina Steiner: If the cost of having a 14 day return is too high, then those sellers can just never be a top rated seller.

Jim (Griff) Griffith: I acknowledge that that is a possibility. My advice would be to test your way into it. That has been my big watchcard for the year. Don't assume this can't work for you. Test your way into it. I'll give you an example. If you sell a lot of clothing, perhaps you want to test because if it has to be 90 percent of your listings, some of your listings don't have to qualify in order to be top rated. You can have some listings where you don't offer a return. Maybe it is an expensive piece of clothing, where you say No Returns. Having that one policy for that one listing will not disqualify you from top rated seller as long as the majority of the items you need , offer the returns policy. This is on an item basis. A seller can look at their inventory and see if it will work with that.

Ina Steiner: I would imagine that lingerie sellers are out of the loop with top rated sellers. I think laws in most states prohibit returns in that category.

Jim (Griff) Griffith: It's possible, yes.

Michael Jones: So, I think when you think about you know all these changes and the things that we're doing, I think what's really important to continue to focus on for all of your readers and listeners is, at the end of the day the consumer expectations are continually changing. And it doesn't mater if it's here or elsewhere, at the end of the day they are continually expecting these things that we're changing are the marketplace. What I find interesting is the conversations I've had with many of our top rated sellers is, these are things that they're already doing, which is why their business is growing, and which is why we think they should be rewarded for doing these great things for our buyers. As we make changes like this, moving through this year and next year, etc., it will always be with this thought in mind, which is, what can we continually do to help selles continually meet the expectations of consumers? So there will always be …where we know that's important.

Ina Steiner: Okay, I did have one more question and that's regarding the eBay catalog, which will be required in consumer electronics categories, and eBay has a list of those categories that are affected, but I saw a seller ask on the blog, what do you do when the eBay catalog is incorrect, or it just doesn't have the appropriate listing? Their concern is, is eBay going to accurately maintain the catalog of all manufactured items, new and old stock? That was one question I definitely wanted to ask.

Jim (Griff) Griffith: What a very valid question. I had this in an email last week. There is a process currently that if you use the catalog and it fills in wrong information where you have made a suggestion, or corrected the catalog in the process itself, there are some cases where it may require direct contact with our category team. We're adapting that form for reporting and changing the catalog so it can handle all the cases that come in. In a case where the catalog isn't working the seller is not going to be penalized. We will make the correction. We are updating them all the time. There is a whole team dedicated to this.

Ina Steiner: I wanted to ask you guys if you had any last changes that you wanted to talk about. We've covered a lot of areas, a lot of ground in this interview, and there is of course a lot of information on the eBay site and ecommerce sites, but any final thoughts that you have, Michael or Griff?

Michael Jones: I think it's important to remind your readers and listeners that with better service standards, they are going to attract and retain more customers. Loyal customers are going to buy more at the end of the day. We're taking a playbook out of our best sellers that we already have on the site. We're looking at what they're doing and how they're being successful. We want to continue to reward that behavior because we know that it will end up providing more and more buyers which will in turn drive more transactions for our top rated sellers. Griff: I echo what MJ just said.

Ina Steiner: MJ, I did want to ask you one last question. You came over to eBay I think it was last year I think from Channel Advisor, so can you fill us in on what your role is?

Michael Jones: You're right, it's been 18 months, almost two years at this point. My focus is, merchant development team, and our goal is to bring new merchants on to the platform that we believe can help provide more breadth of product for our buyers. Also making sure that we can focus on the sellers that we currently have and help them grow their business. Then, also, taking a look at the changes that we made to the platform and how we can make that an easier process for our partners as well as our sellers. And so, that's my main focus and at the end of the day, if we do all the right things, we will continue to grow our top rated sellers' business, which is most important to me.

Comment on the EcommerceBytes Blog.

About the author:

Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com.

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